Metaphors and similes are an imaginative galaxy which greater minds than mine have explored. That doesn’t stop me gathering dazzling and original examples to enliven human exchange, expanding the choice of vigorous, beautiful ways to sharpen how we think, read, write and speak.

The chill of indifference

The chill of indifference

Philip is a sensitive and admirable character in George Eliot's classic novel, who devotedly loves Maggie Tulliver.  He is hampered by disability and feels indifference acutely, here likened to a chill wind. '... and Philip felt indifference as a child of the south...

As irrelevant as…

As irrelevant as…

Poor Mr. Dickson, but what a strong simile for irrelevance in the brightness of daylight. 'Mr. Dickson leaning against the doorpost with a melancholy pimpled face, looking as irrelevant to the daylight as last night's guttered candle.'    Source: George Eliot,...

Like a kitten

Like a kitten

This novel is to a great extent about the relationship between brother and sister Maggie and Tom Tulliver. She loves him fiercely and as a child is desperate for his affection and approval. Here she knocks over something he has been building and incurs his fury. The...

As helpless as …

As helpless as …

The wonderful little girl Maggie, in a fit of pique and sorrow, hacks off her glorious dark curls and then succumbs to horror at the consequences, such as anger and mockery among the family.  She hides herself in the attic to avoid them, which leads to other equally...

It runs in families like …

It runs in families like …

George Eliot uses an asthmatic simile to reveal the religious prejudices of her characters. If they considered that it runs in families 'like asthma', you may assume they didn't approve of chapel-goers. The light and gently humorous touch is typical of her delicate...

Life simile

Life simile

What a surprising simile for life - at least in its easeful moments - likening it to a familiar tool worn to the shape of the fingers holding it, comfortably sitting in the palm of the hand which over time has itself shaped the handle. '... where life seemed like a...

Someday the history of metaphor will be written and we shall at last grasp all the truths and misconceptions in which this intensely speculative subject abounds.  

Source: Jorge Luis Borges, On Writing, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2010, p. 45

As attentive as …

If you’ve been in the sights of a heron’s alert and beady gaze, as he picks his way delicately through mud or field, you will feel how apt this is....

Moon as feather

A lyrical description of the sun, the moon, and the dreams of an otter - that he might swim, unhunted and unhungry, down to the sea with his otter-son. The metaphor...

Like an ant carrying a caterpillar

Here the kind and honest Adam Bede goes a-wooing, offering to help Hetty carry a heavy basket.  She's indifferent to his gallantry, as Eliot puts it, not giving two hoots...

Brain as bathroom shelf

Simon Winder is a favourite historian and the upcoming review of his Germania will show why. He has more original phrasing than most library collections marked ‘History’.   He brings past events,...

As hard as …

I like this simile for an implacable nature, though in this case, let us mention that Poyser is only implacable in the face of bad farming.  In many other respects...

As soft as …

Having never even noticed the buds of the willow, this simile for softness and greyness struck me. How observant of Williamson to store this away as a description of otter's...

Womanhood slung over your shoulder

A surprising description which conveys a certain insouciance and strident, even defiant, confidence.

'She seemed to carry her womanhood the way men on the docks carried baling hooks on one...

All parts are one

A lovely comment on interconnectedness.  I had fun choosing the image and hope you like its gentle irreverence.

'All parts of nature belong to one head, as the curls of...

As the falcon flies

Even the rhythm of this simile conveys something of a great bird's single, confident swoop to land precisely on a specific, awaiting glove.

 

'But flying, as the falcon to...

Swimming in circles

A fine simile for a wife who after a good stretch of marriage, still presses all the wrong buttons with regards her husband; here she is likened to a gold-fish...

The sky fallen down

One of the most English of memories is bluebell tapestried woodland in April - I have a particular recollection of this sky-carpet in a wood in Devon. Combined with sunlight...

Eyes like …

I have never seen violet eyes, though I have a recollection of someone describing Elizabeth Taylor's as being of this colour.  But 'drenched violets', how enchanting those must be!

See...

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